The question we’re struggling with right now is how safe do we feel in Mexico.

A neighbor of Miguel’s best friend was in a car accident in late June and the wife asked Miguel’s friend, Adrian, to take her to the hospital. Adrian was so upset by the news he couldn’t drive. So Miguel drove Adrian and the neighbor’s wife to the hospital.

The neighbor and his adult son and another fellow were coming back from work; driving on what passes for highway here. It was just about sundown, 7:30 p.m. or so, and the roads were wet from heavy rains. My guess is everyone was driving at their usual crazy speed. The father was driving in the right hand lane, the son was in the backseat, the passenger in the front seat just happened to be looking backwards and saw another car approaching even faster. As the driver of the second car pulled out to pass the father’s car, she clipped the left rear corner. Yes, it was close enough that the passenger saw it was a woman driving. The neighbor’s car went into a spin, jumped the center divide, and slid into the opposite lanes of traffic – facing in the correct direction for their new lanes, but directly in front of an oncoming vehicle. The impact collapsed the rear of the car, crushing the son inside.

The son was trapped for 30 minutes before the rescue workers could get him out. At the hospital, he was in grave condition – internal injuries, a broken thigh and a foot severed at the arch. The first surgery, after waiting for the mother to arrive with proof of medical insurance, was to put his intestines back together.

Yet, those issues, alone, are not the main reasons for us to rethink living in Mexico. Here are the details as they have been explained to me by Miguel; each an individual assault to my sense of justice and, taken together, one big question mark about what my expectations are for living here.

While in the hospital, the father was arrested for attempted suicide. Apparently there is a law that any driver must be arrested for attempted suicide for intentionally driving fast enough to be potentially life threatening. I think it’s an interesting law and would almost be inclined to support it, except that the arrest was made before the investigation was even begun and the father has to stay in jail until the investigation is completed (weeks/months) or until he pays $150,000 pesos in bail. There is no system of posting bonds for bail. Imagine being stuck in jail, with a family to support, unable to work, and obligated to pay in cash the equivalent of about six years wages. And, even if he is ultimately found innocent, the $150,000 pesos will stay with the police.

I asked, “What about the driver that clipped them?” The father’s attorney says that even if the police located the other driver at the time of the accident (because they won’t likely go looking for her later), the police would simply say, “Pay us $100,000 pesos and we’ll pretend we’ve never seen you.” The obvious question to me was, “Who has that kind of cash on hand?” Apparently, corruption is so institutionalized in Mexico that the police officer will accept whatever cash you have on hand and give you a loan for the rest – secured by your car or your house. If you default on the loan, they take your car or house. If you raise any questions about the propriety of the bribe, it’s just a promissory note between you and a cop – nothing out of the ordinary in the court’s opinion.

Now let me step back to the question of medical care in Mexico…think about this detail and the young man with intestinal surgery. According to Miguel’s mother and sisters, all surgery done on Mexico is done under a local anesthetic. No one is put to sleep for any reason. Ever. Miriam’s appendix ruptured last year, she had to wait a number of hours before they operated, she was awake for the entire operation, the resulting infection required three more surgeries to clean up the poisons that spilled into her body with the rupture – all done with eyes wide open, she was off work more than four months, and was left with a wide and winding ten-inch scar down the middle of her abdomen.

So, whether it is true that surgery is never done under a general anesthesia in Mexico, or whether it is only the local hospitals that are not equipped for procedures that require general anesthesia, medical care is on our list of concerns next to traffic safety and corruption. (And I have a new understanding of and appreciation for the road-bump-cursed surface streets.)

On the other hand, apart from being charged an occasional premium for green eyes, we have not experienced racism in Mexico like we did in the US. Just as in Mexico I am concerned each day about corruption, when we lived in Seattle I was concerned every day about Miguel’s well being in the context of racism.

I can hear you saying, “Racism? In Seattle?” But, yes, Racism. In Seattle. And across the US. And even worse today with immigration conflicts. The subtle and not so subtle racist activities I encountered in the Pacific Northwest included things like

  • The popular “Save the Whale, Kill an Indian” bumper sticker during the 1999 Makah whale hunt (what other cultural group could be so blatantly menaced and no cry of outrage heard in the national press?)
  • The day before our wedding in 2000 my brown-skinned husband was refused a key to the Pike Place Starbuck’s bathroom while I was ordering coffee for our party of four – “You have to buy something” the barista snapped at him, while at the same moment I watched a white man walk in off the street, ask for and was given the key, and then left without ordering a thing (and, even worse, when I complained to the company’s corporate offices they didn’t even bother to respond)
  • After a day spent fishing the far side of a Montana lake in the summer of 1992, my “Red Power” bumper sticker had been pounded into the steel of my bumper with a ball peen hammer
  • The unlikely coincidence that all of my husband’s Mexican coworkers who drive down the same small-town street past the police station to cash their paychecks have been stopped for speeding when they were obeying the speed limit, and the fact that the former city attorney for that same small-town admitted to me that racial profiling for false traffic violations was a city policy because it almost always resulted in large fines from citations to drivers without a license or insurance.

And, yes, I agree that everyone should obey the law and always carry a valid driver’s license and appropriate insurance, but racial profiling is not the way to enforce the law. Miguel’s co-worker who actually produced a valid license and insurance was then charged with drunk driving, even though he wasn’t, and even though many other details of the arrest were questionable, and he had to pay a lot of money to get his record cleared up so as not to jeopardize his legal immigration status. And the terror I saw on their faces when I went to translate for him and his wife with their attorney was, I am certain, what I would have felt had it been me and Miguel.

So, our predicament is this: Which is more difficult to endure? Racism? Or corruption? Both happen every moment of every day. We have experienced both in the past. Either could happen at any moment in the future. Which is more traumatic? Which is easier to put out of my mind as I go through my daily activities?

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